SolSeraph Review — A Tough Act to Follow
Sometimes it's better to leave the classics alone.
SolSeraph is unabashed by its roots. ACE Team’s latest project is a sequel to the SNES classic ActRaiser in nearly everything but name. The game mixes overworld tower defense with action platforming in an attempt to bring the cult classic series forward into the modern era. It’s a creative mix that, frankly, doesn’t deliver in the end product.
In SolSeraph, you play as the divine being Helios, Knight of the Dawn. The people of your world are being ravaged by the Younger Gods, and you must protect them. You’ll do this by playing through alternating stages of action platforming and tower defense.
The bulk of the gameplay takes place in those action-platforming stages. As Helios, you have a few basic abilities at your disposal. At the onset, you can attack, jump, block, and shoot your magical bow and arrow. As you progress through the six different locales, you’ll unlock new special abilities that, like your bow, use up your mana reserves. It’s all basic stuff we’ve seen before, but unfortunately, ACE Team just doesn’t pull it off well.
To start, you jump a lot in this game. There are enemies coming at you from every angle (to include from the background environment as enemies exist in a 3D plane that you don’t). So, you often need to do what you can to get out of the way and set up your attacks. When you make a game that relies so heavily on jumping, it’s important that it feels precise. SolSeraph’s jumps do not feel precise. There’s a floatiness to them that makes everything feel just a little off.
The game also has a problem with questionable hitboxes. So often I was taking damage from enemies that didn’t appear to hit me, while my attacks would just slide right past them. The inconsistency in when I could attack an enemy led to quite a bit of frustration on my part.
And really, frustration is exactly how I’d sum up the action platforming sections. The game doesn’t feel that difficult, but the imprecise controls led to me taking quite a bit of damage. Some levels featured checkpoints, but others didn’t. That meant that I would often get to a boss with three or four pips of health and didn’t get a real chance to learn any patterns. Then it’s back to the start of the level to replay the last 15 minutes and hope I can find a better way to execute each section.
In some ways, these sections feel like Dark Souls. The difference being that in Dark Souls, every mistake is my fault, and I can easily recognize it. In SolSeraph, the mistakes might be my fault, but I’m honestly not sure. That sucks because, outside of one fight, I thought the boss battles were pretty fun action puzzles with interesting solutions.
The other side of the gameplay coin is the tower defense that takes place in the overworld. You’re helping the villagers defend their home by telling them which type of structures to build. There’s quite a bit of variety in what you can build; however, most of it is superfluous as this aspect of the game is mind-numbingly simple.
Seriously, the switch in difficulty between action platforming and tower defense is incredibly jarring and almost makes the platforming more frustrating due to how much more difficult it is. As long as you bring some modicum of effort into slowing down the baddies, you’ll progress through these sections with no resistance. The only times I took damage were when I was bored and trying to speed through the process faster.
There is zero depth to the tower defense here. Which really sucks because there’s quite a bit you could do with this gameplay element to make it more fun and challenging. Unfortunately, it feels like the team wanted to make an action platformer, but didn’t think it would sell well, so they tacked on the extra gameplay. And if you try to match it up with ActRaiser, it looks even worse. That game’s strategy segments are light years ahead of SolSeraph.
I don’t want to completely dunk on the game because it does do a number of things well. The cast of monsters is diverse, throwing new things at you throughout the campaign. That said, some of the later enemies are more annoying to deal with than difficult, which just leads to more frustration. I also really liked how they’d come out of the background at first. However, when you’re replaying the level for the 15th time and are trying to play cautiously, waiting ten seconds for them to become hittable becomes old quickly. Nearly everything I like about SolSeraph comes with caveats like these.
The one thing that I can fully get behind is the music. The opening theme was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, the man behind the tunes in games like Streets of Rage, Ys, and, of course, ActRaiser. The soundtrack doesn’t quite match up to that opening number, but it’s still unquestionably listenable.
The story is…there. There really isn’t anything to note. It’s told through dialogue boxes from the various villagers, and the best part about them is the character portraits that pop up off to the side. Graphically, SolSeraph is fine, if a little generic.
The total package just adds up to something that feels half-baked. There are elements here that could make an interesting spiritual sequel to ActRaiser, but they never realize the potential. You can basically sum this entire game and review up in one word: frustration.
If you’re looking to play something like ActRaiser, you might be able to wrangle some fun out SolSeraph. But, as a counterpoint, I would probably suggest just going and playing ActRaiser again. It’s still really great.